Has Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi frittered away a big opportunity to present himself as the alternative to Narendra Modi?
If his off the cuff comments at University of California in Berkley are any indication, Gandhi did nothing to change his image as a leader who parachuted to head the Congress due to his surname. His father Rajiv Gandhi was pushed into the rough and tumble of Indian polity when first his brother Sanjay Gandhi perished in a plane crash and then of course his mother Indira Gandhi was tragically assassinated. And he did a fair job of things before an unfortunate arms scandal tripped him politically and when he was set to return as PM, he too was brutally assassinated by Tamil rebels.
In fact, Rahul Gandhi strongly wore the “dynasty” colours on his sleeve to lead the grand old party. Rather very laughably, Gandhi made a ‘song and dance’ of inheriting Congress from his great grandfather.
His candour needs to be appreciated before a global audience where by his own admission he was ready to field questions on anything and everything. Rahul Gandhi not only defended his origins as a leader but batted for the few politically entrenched families who have India’s affairs one way or the other over the last 70 years. Bringing in Anurag Thakur, Akhilesh Yadav, Abhishek Bachchan in defence of his ascent to Congress president could be described as unconvincing and churlish, but the incontrovertible reality is that they too are dynasts.
It’s also for the first time that Sonia Gandhi’s son and Indira Gandhi’s grand son publicly appointed himself as the one to take on prime minister Narendra Modi in the next general elections two years from now. Nitish Kumar’s shift to NDA, several UPA leaders facing charges or convictions in scandals may have prompted him to believe that he would be the unquestioned leader of what appears to be at the moment a Republic of Kichdi.
Rahul Gandhi’s performance in California has demonstrated for the nth time that it’s not an easy task to repackage a leader who has not risen from the grassroots. The problem actually begins there and doesn’t end there for he has never given an impression that he is rooted and grounded and wants to make politics his chosen calling. His frequent trips abroad, his nonchalance over national issues, his general disinterest over the nitty gritty of polity have left him open to speculation on whether he wants to make this a career. For this reason, it is a nightmare for the best of the branding honchos and political grooming experts to turn the Gandhi scion into a national leader of some relevance.
One would not easily forget Shiela Dixit’s comment that Rahul Gandhi would eventually evolve and grow up as a leader on national scene. In fact, the written speech he delivered had more meat if one were to set aside the honesty on dynasties, his ascent as Congress president and prime challenger to Modi.
His admission of Congress follies of becoming arrogant and having lost the plot after 60-years of being in power could easily become the starting point for Rahul Gandhi’s transformation as a leader. He lost a chance to provide an alternative narrative that would hold good till 2030 and ensconced him as a young leader of liberal values ready to lead a large and complex country like India whose time has arrived on the global arena.
Though Gandhi made pointless attacks on Modi, he failed to encash on the latter’s challenges in providing an inclusive economy with 10 per cent growth and employment opportunities. Modi government could have been put on mat for having bungled on economic policy making and its inability to provide one million jobs as promised.
One big gaffe he could have however, avoided was to take the Indian political mish-mash narrative to the US East Coast. Modi should partly share the blame for taking the political fight global given that he had held Congress accountable for the slowdown and endemic corruption in dozens of Indian community interactions abroad. Both, UPA and NDA leadership must stick to the decades old dictum to avoid raising internal political commentary on global forums.
Finally, one would only hope that Rahul Gandhi would best utilise his 15-day US sojourn to transform himself into a mature leader that the cadres and Congress workers could count on. His father became PM of India at a younger age than him and he should transpose some of the learnings from his own family to become a leader of some standing and repute.